Since 2010, Internet behemoth Google has turned to a tiny ad shop that employs just five full-timers to encapsulate and share the most vivid, noteworthy impressions of the previous year. That ad company, Whirled, based in Venice, California, creates videos that have garnered over 100 million collective views.
Each annual Zeitgeist video, coming in at under three minutes in length, is a compilation of what Google and Whirled ascertain as the most compelling images of the past year (largely based on numbers of Google searches) via one emotionally magnetic video that never fails to go massively viral. The 2012 video had the largest viewership yet, with over 15 million views tallied.
Though the videos connect viscerally with viewers, some naysayers inevitably disagree with an omission or inclusion. "Some people were angry that we included Honey Boo Boo in the 2012 Zeitgeist video," shares the founder and creative director of Whirled, Scott Chan. Chan doesn't shy away from criticism, feeling that stirring emotion in the viewer, whether good or bad, means he's done his job.
Whirled's vision is encapsulated by this famous Maya Angelou quote: "People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel." Chan's upbringing -- he grew up in the Bay Area, then moved to Los Angeles after college - helped form him as a storyteller. Living in these two cities taught him how to seamlessly meld technology with entertainment, particularly during his tenure at HBO, where he created content for their digital studio, HBOlab.
Chan founded Whirled in 2009. An early company project, Pulp Wave Fiction, a Pulp Fiction-inspired video made with Google's then-new Google Wave software, went viral and quickly caught Google's attention. Thrilled that Whirled had made such an accessible, resonant video simplifying a difficult-to explain product, an ongoing relationship was born.
Incidentally, anyone experiencing Mad Men withdrawals in the wake of the recent sixth season finale may want to check out another Whirled project, "Mad Smoke." Back in 2010, for its own amusement, Whirled created this supercut of every cigarette scene from the ad world-drama:
In a time when the online video industry is still experiencing immense growth - this past February, 178 million Americans watched 33 billion online content videos -- Whirled's success is remarkable. Despite their small staff, all Whirled projects are created in-house, from ideas to film production on through distribution. Aside from Google, they've created powerful video content for such illustrious customers as The White House (President Obama's Fireside Hangouts, a modern update of FDR's Fireside Chats), Paramount Pictures, Lady Gaga, and PBS. Among the clients they've pleased are ASUS, who recently launched a campaign for their VivoBook Touch notebook computer and for whom Whirled recently created a series of commercials. Shares ASUS's Vice President of Marketing, Kevin Huang: "The goal is to build an emotional connection between the product and our target audience. [Whirled is] very good at telling brand/product stories and creating inspirational stories."
I asked Chan about the future of the video industry, and he shared:
"From GoPros on our heads to HBOGo on our tablets to Vine and YouTube on our phones, and even giant IMAX theaters, video is everywhere. People want it -- they expect it. So for Whirled, the video space couldn't be a more exciting place to be. Video's always been our passion and our mission has always been to use it to tell stories that reach and genuinely connect with large audiences all over the world."